First published in the New Straits Times, March 31, 1999
The tyranny of pigs
by Amir Muhammad
PIGS have been hogging my imagination recently. It's partly because I'm perturbed by the mass killing (or, to use the
current euphemism, "culling") of those beasts.
I understand the health risks that they pose, but my crystalline heart still wants to cry out 'kesiannya!' when I see media
depictions of this porcine holocaust. I was moved enough to pen this tender, sensitive but somewhat hammy poem while
waiting for the bus yesterday:
"Oink oink" is all you can say
As we take your swinish lives away.
Just because we have JE,
We cannot have anymore babi.
Listen to what Health people say!
Go slaughter the nearest khinzir!
Those vexatious vectors made this happen.
May you find a better life up in Hog Heaven.
My only hope is that half a century from now, a highly intelligent film director of pig extraction (Steven Swineberg?) will
make a movie about the horrors that his ancestors had to undergo. It'll be even more wrenching than Schindler's List,
gua cakap lu.
Thinking of intelligent pigs made me segue quite naturally into George Orwell's famous novel Animal Farm (1945). I took
it off the shelf last night and read it again, just for fun. It can be gobbled up in one reading since it's only 95 pages
long. But this is truly one instance where I can say: "Never mind the size, just appreciate the technique."
Animal Farm is a political novel couched in a child-like allegory. An allegory is a story that you tell in the guise of
another. At its most basic, the novel is all about a bunch of animals seizing control of their farm before falling prey to
corruption, cronyism, nepotism and dictatorship. But it's actually a satire on Soviet communism.
Brief history lesson: After the end of World War Two, loads of people in the industrialised West assumed that
socialism/communism would be the way of the future. Proof: the first post-war British Cabinet was formed not by Churchill
but by the left-wing Labour Party.
Orwell (1903-1950) was a firm English socialist who nevertheless hated the Stalinist model which had reached such iconic
significance in Europe. He wanted to expose the cruelty and injustices of the Soviet regime. So he wrote Animal Farm.
Stalin was still held in sufficient reverence in England for the book to be turned down by several publishers. It was finally
printed by Warburg, and it became Orwell's first best-seller.
The story itself is perfectly realised and resonant. After the animals overthrow their human master Mr Jones, they look
forward to a more just and egalitarian future. They start by changing the name of Manor Farm to Animal Farm.
The pigs, considered the most intelligent of the lot, had taught themselves to read and write, and so they set down The
Seven Commandments for the animal community. These Commandments include "Whoever goes upon two legs is an
enemy", "No animal shall kill another animal" and "All animals are equal."
The animals devote themselves to work, thinking that all the spoils of the land will be distributed equally as planned. But
slowly the pigs start to take much more than their fair share. The new post-merdeka system doesn't look like it's going
to be very equitable after all.
When some animals choose to complain, the pigs would use Jones as a bogey to scare them into submission: "Day and
night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know
what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Yes, Jones would come back!"
We can already see distinct behavioral traits emerging among the animals. The pigs are bossy and unscrupulous, the
horses are hard-working and selfless, the dogs are vicious, and the dim-witted sheep can do nothing but bodek all day
long as they repeat the mantra "Four legs good, two legs bad."
It doesn't take long for a leadership contest to emerge between two pigs: Napoleon, who has a way of getting whatever
he wants, and Snowball, an excellent orator who shines with idealism (modelled after Trotsky, naturally). The crunch
comes when the two pigs have different plans for the economic development of the farm.
All the animals gather so that they can listen to and vote on the pig they want to lead. Napoleon's speech pales in
comparison to Snowball's passionate exhortations. It looks like Snowball will win. But wait:
"Napoleon stood up and, casting a peculiar sidelong look at Snowball, uttered a high-pitched whimper of a kind no one had ever heard utter before. At this there was a terribly baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the farm. They dashed straight for Snowball, who only sprang from his place just in time to escape their snapping jaws. In a moment he was out of the door and they were after him."
This extract shows that Napoleon is ruthless enough to use dirty tactics in getting rid of his opponent. But his campaign
doesn't end there. He bans all public debates and states that, from now, all decisions will be made by committees
headed by himself.
He goes out of his way to discredit Snowball as a "dangerous character and a bad influence" who harboured
neo-imperialistic tendencies by acting in league with their erstwhile human masters. It becomes a running joke:
Whenever some catastrophe befalls the farm, from the collapse of a windmill to a below-par crop, the animals would be
trained to blame Snowball.
A climate of hysteria reigns as animals are compelled to 'confess' that they cooperated with Snowball. These animals are
killed. But wait a minute! Isn't there a Commandment that forbids this?
Ah, Napoleon is so efficient that he alters the laws by having extra words painted on them. The Commandment now
reads: "No animal shall kill another animal without reason." And the change to the last Commandment becomes the
novel's single most famous line: "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others."
Napoleon meanwhile makes all sorts of blunders but the animals continue to praise him because they have been trained
to do so. Cows at the river would exclaim, "Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water
Animal Farm is not just a simple denunciation of communism. The novel still paints capitalism (personified by the
neighbouring human farmers) as evil, but Orwell did not want British socialism to fall into the same trap of Stalinist
tyranny and sycophancy. His ability to see both sides of the story, while still holding on to his principles, gives his work
an extra charge.
A year after the book's publication he wrote a letter which explained: "I meant the moral to be that revolutions only
affect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter
have done their job ... What I was trying to say was, "You can't have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there
is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship."
The beasts of Animal Farm made the mistake of keeping silent when the smallest liberties were taken away from them.
By the time Napoleon shows his true self by walking on two legs, everyone is too powerless to say anything, since they
had allowed too many decisions to be made on their behalf. Those poor things!
Amir Muhammad's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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